Weird Metals Story of the Day

Slightly odd:

South Korean scientists said Tuesday that they have developed an eco-friendly topsoil that enhances plant growth and drastically reduces harmful residues of pesticides.

A research team led by Chung Byung-yeoup at the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) said the new soil is made by using small quantities of so-called rare earth elements. These are a group of compound materials made up of Lanthan, Scandium and Yterium.

"Test have shown that this new topsoil boosts plant growth by 30 per cent, strengthens roots, while lowering nitrate and pesticide levels by up to 60 per cent.

There\’s another name for Lanthanum, Yttrium and the like: heavy metals. Serioulsy, most surprised that anyone is recommending adding these to topsoil.

Best Blog Posts

There\’s a little meme going around the blogs at the moment, which are, were, the best blogs, the best blog posts. There\’s even which were the worst being asked.

Megan McArdle asks a slightly different question.

I\’m actually more interested in what people would select for their own best blog posts. Who do they think they are, at their best?

Why, we might take that as our very own little game, why not? You, you other bloggers out there. What do you think is the best blog piece you\’ve done? Take up to five if you wish. Spread the meme far and wide.

Of my own output I\’ll go with this:

Fuck Him

Via The Englishman we get this:

Spending on compensation paid to those wrongly convicted of crimes is to be cut by £5m a year, Home Secretary Charles Clarke has announced.

Those who win their appeals at the first attempt will get no compensation. Others who have spent years in prison will see any pay-outs capped.

A discretionary compensation scheme, introduced in 1985, which paid out £2m a year would be scrapped immediately because it had become "increasingly anomalous", Mr Clarke said.

Scrapping that scheme means people will not be allowed compensation if their cases have been quashed while going through the normal appeal process – winning at the first attempt.

And new limitations will be placed on claimants under a statutory scheme – which will remain in force – which currently pays out £6m a year.

"The changes I have announced today will create a fairer, simpler and speedier system for compensating miscarriages of justice," Mr Clarke said.

"These changes will save more than £5m a year which we will plough back into improving criminal justice and support for victims of crime."

So let’s think through what happens when someone is wrongly convicted shall we? They lose some years of their life to the prison system.  Sad but true and there’s no way we’re ever going to have a justice system where this doesn’t actually happen to some unfortunates at least occasionally.

What matters is what we do when it does happen.

There are a few other trivial things that happen too. They miss seeing their children grow up perhaps, lose their jobs and careers. Most will probably lose their house, whether rented or mortgaged. Some trauma perhaps at finding the State imprisoning you for no good reason.

All in all you could say that there’s some direct damage, both economic and psychic, from such wrongful convictions.

So what does Charlie the Safetly Elephant suggest? That if you’ve only spent, what, 20 odd months, damn near two years inside (the length of time it usually takes to get an appeal heard), lost perhaps your house, job, children, maybe even marriage, well, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, eh? Y’know, bad things happen, not my fault Guv?

And for what? To save 5 million a year? 5 fucking million? Out of 500 billion that he and his wastrel compadres are spending each year?

That is, 0.001% of public spending is going to be saved by not compensating those whose lives have been irretrievably fucked up by the actions of the State?

Have these people no shame?

Do you know what else costs some 5 million a year? Subsidising the snouts in the trough in Parliament. Literally:

parliament\’s £5.7m annual catering subsidy

Talk about your misplaced priorities mate.  Nope, sorry, I don’t care how nice he was to Rachel and her Dad (eventually), think  nothing of whatever laws have been passed about the incitement to terrorism and give, quite frankly, two shits about the consequences of this statement.

Charles Clarke should be hung from the nearest lamp pole, assuming we can find one to bear the weight of the fat fucker, the assembled political parties forced to watch as he tap dances on air and happy children gambol at his feet.

If we as a society get things wrong and imprison the innocent it is our duty, as that very society, to both say sorry and to compensate them as best we can. What we offer can only ever be inadequate but to deny this moral fact, to save the price of MP’s pork pies?

You fuck Clarke, for shame.

Yes, I\’ll stand by that: makes up in part for some of the inanity I\’ve been responsible for I think.

New Blog!

Good Grief!

A well written Sex Blog!

Carrying the mantle for radical feminism between my legs isn\’t easy. Not even for me, Belinda Swallows – wife, mother, sister, daughter. Actually none of those are true except the last one but it sounds good, doesn\’t it? The point is I am a woman. A woman putting her arse, pussy and breasts out there in full view of men, just to get a better deal for other women. And instead of every single woman getting behind me and admiring my hot figure, they write to me and abuse me, saying that my fucking has nothing to do with eliminating the glass ceiling.

You might find the occasional, umm, echo, of another sex blogger in this.

Interesting Political Party

Unfortunately, you can\’t vote fo them as they\’re in Australia:

It is not moral to give away other people\’s money.

The LDP doesn’t believe that the government should have any role in regulating, controlling or monitoring our love lives.

Adults should be free to control their own sex lives without the coercive interference of the government or any other group.

Raising a child is the job of parents, not the government.

The LDP supports free choice for adults.

The LDP believes that each individual should be allowed to discriminate using their own property, but should not be able to use to the government to discriminate against any group.

And a lovely answer:

What would your Party do to safeguard family time?

Nothing.

Honest politicians, eh? Who would have thought it possible?

Errm, Dean, Well…

I see your point but….

The regulatory policy that states had in place was deliberately to designed to have a cross subsidy, with industrial users paying more so that residential and commercial users could pay less. One expected result of deregulation would be that this cross-subsidy would be eliminating, which would mean that electricity prices for residential and commercial users would rise relative to prices for industrial users. It would be quite striking, if it turns out that even industrial users did not benefit from deregulation.

I\’m perfectly willing to agree that such a cross subsidy was in fact what was planned, what was desired. However, I would argue that there is at least the possibility of an alternative explanation of the results of deregulation. That such a cross subsidy was not in fact achieved. That, despite the desires of the planners, it was actually industrial large users who were subsidised by residential and commercial users.

That does at least explain the observed facts, that industrial users are facing higher (I assume relative to commercial and residential…for if everyone is paying higher prices then that might just be changes in raw materials or fuel costs) prices under the deregulated system.

It also fits with my own prejudices Bayesian Priors, that when a system of such cross subsidy, of regulation, is set up, whatever the intended outcome, those with the biggest incentives are going to be those who strive most to make sure that the system benefits them. Thus the industrial users, given that they had vastly higher and more concentrated benefits from gaming the system than residential users did, worked harder to make sure that they system benefitted them, not the residential users.

In short, such planned systems might have an intended outcome, and we often see when they unravel that the actual outcome was the opposite of what was planned.

A good reason not to have such planned systems, of course.

 

Making Politicians Behave

Jamie Whyte has an interesting idea:

When no amount of prior regulation reduces the quantity of subsequent regulation, it is clear that politicians\’ incentives to legislate are disconnected from any good that their laws might do. How can this preposterous situation be remedied?

An attempt is currently before New Zealand\’s Parliament. The Regulatory Responsibility Bill aims to improve the quality of legislation by specifying principles of responsible regulation and requiring the sponsor of any new Bill to report on its compliance with these principles.

The principles are simple and uncontroversial but still sufficient to rule out most recent British legislation. For example, one states that legislation should not diminish the rule of law by creating uncertainty as to whether actions are lawful. That would dispose of Britain\’s “incitement to hatred” laws. Another states that legislation should not diminish freedom of contract. That would rule out most employment legislation, which is little more than a conspiracy against freedom of contract. And the principle that a Bill should not be passed into law if its goal could better be achieved without it would do for almost all other legislation of recent years.

Alas, the Bill does not go far enough. It provides no extra-parliamentary mechanism for ensuring adherence to its principles, explicitly ruling out judicial review. The shame of publishing a report about their misguided, principles-violating legislation is supposed to keep politicians honest.

As the first comment points out, that mechanism was in fact the House of Lords.

But the general thrust seems sound. If we cannot have my preferred solution to politicians (hang them all and let God sort them out) then can we at least make them irrelevant?

Enoch Was Right!

I\’m still really rather amazed about this scandal over Enoch Powell:

Nigel Hastilow, Conservative candidate in a Midlands marginal, wrote in a newspaper in Wolverhampton (where Powell was MP when he made his infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968) that most local people think immigration is our biggest problem, and that “Enoch was right” to say mass immigration would change Britain “irrevocably”.

Because of course this is entirely true. Mass immigration did change Britain irrevocably. As did the invention of the telephone, the seed drill and as the internet currently is. That is simply a complete no brainer.

The rather more complex question is whether all four changed Britain for the better: I happen to think so, yes, but that\’s a rather different matter. That the change was predicted and that the change has happened are simply facts, facts that cannot be argued with. So why the lynch mob?

Simple Answer

A quarter of graduates do not have full-time jobs more than three years after getting their degrees, according to government figures.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency, which examined the career progression of 24,000 people, also found that 20 per cent of those who were employed were not working in graduate occupations.

So too many are getting a degree then.

Absolutely Agreed Polly!

It\’s time to end faith and grammar schools that damage children\’s chances and limit most parents\’ choices.

It is absolutely the time to remove the limits on most parent\’s choices. Of course, we shouldn\’t do that by the method you advocate, which is that pupils are assigned to a school, rather, we should work the other way around. We should maximise parents\’ choices by slapping a voucher on the back of every kid and letting parents choose as they wish.

As they do in Sweden.

Yes George

You\’re right:

It doesn\’t get madder than this. Swaziland is in the grip of a famine and receiving emergency food aid. Forty per cent of its people are facing acute food shortages. So what has the government decided to export? Biofuel made from one of its staple crops, cassava. The government has allocated several thousand hectares of farmland to ethanol production in the district of Lavumisa, which happens to be the place worst hit by drought. It would surely be quicker and more humane to refine the Swazi people and put them in our tanks. Doubtless a team of development consultants is already doing the sums.

This is indeed insane. But what causes this insanity? Well, have you noted that little phrase, "government decided"? Yes, that\’s it. It\’s government, the planners, who have made this howling error. There\’s our own system of governance, the EU, insisting upon 10% biofuels, then there\’s the Swazi one, making their own error given those incentives.

You see, something we keep trying to tell you: politicians and bureaucrats do not make decisions which benefit us all, they make ones which benefit polticians and bureaucrats: which is why we would like them to have as little decision making power as is possible, consistent with still having a State capable of doing the things that it must.

Ziegler took up the call first made by this column for a five-year moratorium on all government targets and incentives for biofuel: the trade should be frozen until second-generation fuels – made from wood or straw or waste – become commercially available.

And there you go, falling immediately into the same trap. It\’s no good going around pointing out the errors of planners: you need to point out the error of such planning.

A recent study by the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen shows that the official estimates have ignored the contribution of nitrogen fertilisers. They generate a greenhouse gas – nitrous oxide – that is 296 times as powerful as CO2. These emissions alone ensure that ethanol from maize causes between 0.9 and 1.5 times as much warming as petrol, while rapeseed oil (the source of more than 80% of the world\’s biodiesel) generates 1-1.7 times the impact of diesel. This is before you account for the changes in land use.

I haven\’t seen the study but I\’m willing to believe it. David (?) Pimental has been making the same point about maize derived ethanol for nearly a decade. But that hasn\’t stopped the idiot planners from pushing it forward.

If the governments promoting biofuels do not reverse their policies, the humanitarian impact will be greater than that of the Iraq war. Millions will be displaced, hundreds of millions more could go hungry. This crime against humanity is a complex one, but that neither lessens nor excuses it. If people starve because of biofuels, Ruth Kelly and her peers will have killed them. Like all such crimes, it is perpetrated by cowards, attacking the weak to avoid confronting the strong.

A little strong perhaps, but sound in essence. Yes, indeed, we must stop this push towards biofuels, for it is indeed economic nonsense.

But do remember this little episode next time George has a suggestion for dealing with any particular problem, won\’t you? The planners are not always right.

Taxation Bananas

This is good news don\’t you think?

Richard Murphy, a tax expert who advised the NAO on its report on the performance of the UK Revenue and Customs, said that large companies are effectively now able to set their own tax rates. "Corporation tax is falling worldwide as a percentage of profits. Corporations seem to be deciding what they should pay, not as a percentage like the rest of us, but as a sum above which they don\’t want to go."

John Christensen, a former economic adviser to the Jersey government and director of the campaign group Tax Justice Network, said the Guardian investigation confirmed that the flight of capital was continuing, having reached unprecedented levels in the 1990s. "The trend in the last 30 years has been to shift the burden of tax away from companies on to the consumer and labour. Capital is increasingly going untaxed."

For as we know, the taxation of corporate profits actually leads to lower wages. Proof here. So we can in fact celebrate these glorious upholders of the workers\’ wages at the expense of the predatory State.

We might also note that capital isn\’t in fact going untaxed: it\’ just being taxed where it ought to be, at the level of the individual, when they receive their dividends or capital gains. A good thing all round then.

WW III and Climate Change

This is nonsense of course:

The battle to deal with climate change needs to be fought like "World War Three", the head of the Environment Agency has warned.

…..

"This is World War Three – this is the biggest challenge to face the globe for many, many years. We need the sorts of concerted, fast, integrated and above all huge efforts that went into many actions in times of war.

"We\’re dealing with this as if it is peacetime, but the time for peace on climate change is gone – we need to be seeing this as a crisis and emergency," she said.

Something that is going to happen over several centuries is nothing like a war at all. This is simply the institutional memory of a bureaucracy harking back to the days when they got to boss people around.

She said measures such as improving the resilience of existing homes to flooding, not building on floodplains and improving water use efficiency were needed.

That\’s more like the sort of level of things we\’re talking about. Sticking water meters in, not doing things isanely stupid like building on ht Thames Gateway flood plain….simple enough and not in any way "war".

Robert Watson, chief scientist of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was asked later whether Britain needed to spend 42 per cent of its budget on climate change as the United States did on the war in World War Two. He said tackling climate change required will but was possible at relatively little cost.

Quite, in fact, if we were actually being sensible about this we could tackle it at no cost to us. Allow those in the future, who will be far richer than us, to deal with it.

Darling in Sensible Act Shocker!

I know I shouldn\’t say it, but it looks like the man actually did something sensible. How it grates to say it though….

Speaking to the BBC\’s business editor Robert Peston for a File on 4 programme tonight on Radio 4, Mr King said the emergency talks broke down after Lloyds demanded a £30 billion Bank of England loan at competitive rates as part of the deal.

Critically, he said he told Mr Darling this was "a matter for government" to decide.

The governor said: "I said to the Chancellor, \’This is not something which a central bank can do: they don\’t normally finance takeovers by one company for another – let alone to the tune of £30 billion, which is rather a large amount of money\’.

"So I said, \’This is a matter for government, but you have to recognise that if you were to make available such a facility to one bank, you would have to make it available to any other potential bidder and therefore it will become public.\’

"And I don\’t think it took the Chancellor very long to recognise that not only was this something which central banks don\’t do, it\’s also something that governments don\’t do."

For of course, any such deal would have rescued the shareholders in Northern Rock. Exactly what shouldn\’t happen. Preserving the financial markets, yes, but preserving the wealth of those who have gambled and lost, no.

Planners! Planners! Hurrah ! Hurrah!

Isn\’t this lovely boys and girls? We\’re to have two more areas of the economy planned for us. Works so well, as we know, doesn\’t it?

Gordon Brown will announce a house-building drive, creating a series of "eco towns" across Britain.

Yes, that\’s right. Instead of houses being built where people actually want to live, close to other people, they\’ll be built where no one currently lives. This amazing plan is brought to you by the same people who are knocking down 400,000 homes across the North. Amazing how incredibly intelligent they are, isn\’t it, to know that destroying housing at the same time as insisting we need more housing makes sense?

Further, they\’re going to build these new towns where there are no jobs. For, you see, these will be "New Towns". Eco-towns even, ones where everyone will have to commute to somewhere else in order to make a living. We\’re soooo lucky to have these clever people directing us, aren\’t we?

Ministers will also announce a new Immigration Bill, drawn up in the past few weeks amid growing criticism about the projected growth in population. It will introduce a new points-based system that will restrict immigration from outside the EU to those with skills required in Britain.

More joyousness! Seriously! Ministers will decide what skills the economy needs, they have that perfect knowledge require to work out that we actually need another plumber, but not a plasterer, another Gender Studies lecturer but not another ditch digger. Are we not lucky to be ruled by such omniscient beings?

This from the people running a school system that cannot even impart the most basic skills to a large chunk, after 11 years of forced attendance.

Yes, I\’m sure it will all work out very well, just as planned economies always do.

Aren\’t we lucky, lucky, little boys and girls.

The Angry German

An occasional series in Esquire:

What\’s with all the friendliness? Everybody in America seems to want to make sweet love to all their colleagues while behind their backs they want to ram rusty screwdrivers down their throats. In my country, it\’s the other way around: Everyone at the workplace is unfriendly to each other, and then they are best friends over the weekends playing football. When I started working here, one of my first e-mails went to a senior database administrator. It said: "Database is down. Fix it." It landed me a first-row seat in the department head\’s office, getting a talking down about work culture. To this day, I don\’t see anything wrong. I didn\’t say, "You stupid fuck, you let the database go down while masturbating to Mexican donkey porn. Fix it." Now, I learned that the proper way to say this is: "I know you are really busy, but I cannot continue my work while the database is inaccessible. If you don\’t mind, could you look into the problem and let me know if there is a chance you can rectify it? Sorry to be a bother." No wonder shit doesn\’t get done in time when you have to write a freaking novel for each simple thing.

Anyone who has dealth with both Germans and Americans will see the truth of his statements. More articles here.

Blogger Down!

We appear to have a UK based blogger who can do with a little bit of help. A graduate medical student who is about to get thrown off her medical course for lack of money.

Who she is and why this situation has arisen I don\’t know. But, Billsticker does know her and says that this is all kosher and that\’s good enough for me.

The blog of Merys is here.

So, as much as it pains me to do so… I\’m asking for your help. I know I\’m not a charity case, but I\’ve come too far to give up now.

The access to learning fund has rejected me, along with my university hardship fund. The bank won\’t give me a career development loan, so basically I\’m screwed.

Now I agree that someone who is, by any world standard, rich, is not the most urgent call on your limited charitable funds, so do make up your own mind as to whether you\’d like to toss the odd pound or two her way. She has PayPal enabled for your convenience if you should decide to do so.

Despite that suspiciously Welsh sounding name I\’ve done so: but then as the capitalist bastard that I am I can afford to do so, can\’t I?

Up to you.

 

The One Leg Necklace

I know, I know, I shouldn\’t believe everything I read on a celebrity gossip site. But this:

Paul’s daughter has exacted her revenge on her wicked stepmother by reportedly designing a one-leg necklace.

Fierce!

The silver, single-limbed pendant was unveiled to a select group of fashion industry players in Paris last month as part of McCartney’s debut jewellery collection, and is set to launch for spring/summer 2008.

Fierce? Good grief!